Are Batman Forever and Batman & Robin the Same Movie?
In 1997, only two years after their first Bat-related effort Batman Forever, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and director Joel Schumacher unleashed the colourful camp extravaganza Batman & Robin and suddenly everyone was talking about nipples on the bat-suit. The movie was shredded by critics and audiences (for the most part) turned up their noses at the picture. It appeared that Goldsman and Schumacher had gone too far. Before long, the comic book movie genre was proposed dead and DC Comics characters, once the only reputable comic book heroes to make the leap to big screen infamy, packed their bags and handed the torch over to Marvel Comics.
Then, in 2005, after several years of Marvel raking in cash from franchises such as Spider-Man and X-Men, DC made a bold and triumphant return to the big screen with the critically praised Batman Begins. That movie would of course lead to this summer's The Dark Knight, my pick for best superhero movie ever made and currently number 2 on the list of domestic box office champions. The Dark Knight will soon become only the fourth film ever (after Titanic, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest) to gross $1 billion worldwide. Along the way, it has shattered nearly every box office record in the book and the recent announcement that Warner Brothers will re-release the movie in theatres early next year signals that they are prepared to mount a serious Oscar campaign. So, clearly, Batman the movie icon is in a very good place right now. But it wasn't always that way.
More than a decade ago, while Batman & Robin were singlehandedly dismantling a franchise and a genre, things were looking quite grim for Bruce Wayne and company. It wasn't long before Batman & Robin became the laughing stock of the franchise and the butt of endless jokes. It was so unconscionably bad that the movie became a cinematic train wreck, something terrible and sad that you could not look away from. Years later, the movie is like a bad memory, surfacing occasionally but mostly ignored. However, for me, Batman & Robin is one of those entertainingly bad movies that I enjoy revisiting from time to time in hopes of discovering deeper understandings of its badness. As a movie buff, I'm a bit of a masochist. So, intoxicated by the brilliance of The Dark Knight, I recently decided to force my VHS copy of Batman & Robin into the VCR and be reminded of a time when Batman sucked. And much to my amazement, I did discover something new. Well, new to me, at least. I found that Batman & Robin is essentially the same movie as Batman Forever.
Obviously, it's not entirely the same. The image on my VHS box is different than the image on the VHS box for Batman Forever (though only slightly). One movie has Jim Carrey in it, while the other has Arnold Schwarzenegger. And of course, there are those nipples on the bat-suit. But all of that aside, the backbones of these movies (and by backbone I mean the screenplay) are nearly identical. It's as though Akiva Goldsman just opened up his Batman Forever script in his favourite word processor program and started doing a find and replace. All instances of Two-Face are instantly replaced with Mr. Freeze! All instances of the Batmobile are instantly replaced with the Batmobile and the Robin-Cycle (or whatever the hell that thing is called).
Now, to be fair, Goldsman did have to change the dialogue enough so that everyone sounded even goofier. And since this one begins with Batman and Robin already teamed up (and bickering like a married couple, no less!), there had to be exchanges between those characters that were not present in the early moments of Batman Forever. So it is true that Goldsman did do some work, but it's the kind of work that requires the brain functions of an amoeba, so there's no need to go patting him on the back. He took an already stupid script and managed to dumb it down even further. And where it was required of him to come up with something slightly new (such as the main villain's evil plan), he aimed low and gave us Mr. Freeze threatening to (are you ready for this?) freeze the entire city. In fact, I think his plan was to eventually freeze the whole planet! Well golly gee, that must have taken an entire afternoon to think that one up!
Now, I can make fun of this pile of crap all I want, but my point will be lost without providing concrete examples of the striking similarities between the two. So, without further ado, here are the reasons that I believe Batman Forever and Batman & Robin are essentially the same movie (nipples notwithstanding).
Warner Bros. Logo: Both movies start off as expected, with the classic WB shield appearing on-screen. In both cases, the shield transforms into the Bat-symbol. One difference, though: in Batman & Robin, once the shield has transformed, the Bat-symbol becomes covered in ice. You know, like it's frozen. Wow, I never saw that one coming. Now, this is probably more Scumacher repeating himself than Goldsman repeating himself, but either way, it's a stylistic decision that is essentially repeated.
Credit Sequence: Both movies feature a really flashy credit sequence, in which 3D text bursts onto the screen and announces the cast and title and stuff like that. Again, this is almost certainly more Schumacher's doing than Goldsman's, but either way, it's basically the same from movie to movie. But the Batman & Robin one sucks even more because (a) it is done entirely in one colour (red), unlike the multi-coloured Batman Forever text, and (b) it gives top billing to Arnie, who phoned in his performance and only appeared on screen for about twenty minutes.
Opening Scene: After those credit sequences, both movies open with a series of close-up shots of Batman/Batman & Robin suiting up for a big fight. Despite one movie having only one costume to focus on in this scene, while the other intercuts between two different costumes, both scenes are frighteningly interchangeable. But, of course, the Batman & Robin scene features a lot more butt and nipple shots. What a surprise. Now, the similarities don't end there. After the suiting-up montage is complete, both movies have an almost serious tone. Batman/Batman & Robin get ready to man their vehicle of choice (the Batmobile/Robin-Cycle) when the serious tone is squashed by a really lame joke. In Batman Forever, butler Alfred shows up and reminds Batman that he hasn't eaten his dinner. Batman responds "I'll get takeout." Then, in Batman & Robin, the joke comes courtesy of Robin's whining about how he wants a car instead of a bike, because "chicks dig the car." Batman flatly responds "this is why Superman works alone." Ugh. And this is beginning to paint a picture of why these movies suck.
First Action Sequence: Following the opening scene, Batman/Batman & Robin race off to combat one of the movie's two villains in a big action-packed clash of colour and bad dialogue. For starters, it is important to note that both movies feature one villain that is already in full-on villain form when the movie begins (but we'll learn more about how they came to be that way later on) and one villain that will soon be introduced as a total loser of a person who will transform into the second villain a couple scenes later. In Batman Forever, the already villainous villain is Two-Face; in Batman & Robin, it's Mr. Freeze. So anyways, both movies feature the hero(es) racing off to kick some villain ass and arriving at a crime scene already in progress. Both action sequences are quite lengthy and both action sequences conclude with the villain getting away. But what's even more hilarious is that both action sequences feature the hero(es) being lifted into the air and taken for a ride. In Batman Forever, Batman is on a giant safe that is attached to a chain dangling from a helicopter, while in Batman & Robin, the two heroes are launched upwards in a crazy rocket. Again, both sequences eat up quite a bit of screentime and end with hero(es) and villain living to fight another day.
Second Villain Introduced (Pre-Villain): After those entertainingly brain dead sequences, both movies introduce us to the two characters that will soon become the second villain: Edward Nygma in Batman Forever and Pamela Isley in Batman & Robin. In both cases, these characters work for Wayne Enterprises, either working for a specific division of Wayne Enterprises (Nygma) or for an independent company being financed by Wayne Enterprises (Isley). Also in both cases, the characters have a crazy plan that they believe will better the world (be it Nygma's wonky brain-sucking contraption or Isley's even wonkier let-the-plants-take-over-the-world plan). In addition to that, both characters are depicted as dishevelled and ugly, with hair going in ever direction and looking as though they haven't showered in weeks (I can only assume this is supposed to convince us that they are borderline crazy, just in case we couldn't get that from their obviously insane plans).
Second Villain Actually Becomes Villain: Not long after meeting these two oddballs, something tragic happens that transforms them. In Batman Forever, Nygma goes nuts (more than usual) when his boss doesn't like his brain-sucking machine and so he pushes his boss out a window and makes the whole thing look like a suicide. Pamela Isley is given a slightly more sympathetic transformation when her boss pushes her into a collection of poisonous chemicals, all because she was spying on him demonstrating his crazy super soldier plan (again with the crazy plans!). In either case, the traumatic experience forces Nygma and Isley to rethink their career paths, resulting in the birth of two new villains: The Riddler and Poison Ivy. Clearly, there is a moral about not shoving people out of windows and into chemicals in here somewhere, but I can't seem to figure it out.
After this, we are treated to (and by treated to I mean tortured by) a series of scenes that simply are supposed to represent character development and plot progression. I won't bother going into specifics on these ones, but it's all pretty lame and, of course, quite similar.
Origin of First Villain Explained in a Video Viewed in the Batcave: Now this is especially terrifying in the world of similarities. As I mentioned before, both movies feature a villain who is already in full-on villain form when the movie begins. Despite having two villains (and yes, I am purposefully ignoring the thuggish, pathetically wasted Bane character in Batman & Robin, because he is not so much a villain as an excuse to cut narrative corners and help Poison Ivy achieve things outside of her physical abilities, such as busting a hole in the wall of Arkham Asylum), both movies feature only one elaborate villain origin sequence. But, in both movies, Goldsman apparently felt it was necessary to provide some backstory for the other two villains as well. Okay, fine, not a big deal. But what is really funny is how he chose to reveal the information. In both movies, the villain origins of Two-Face and Mr. Freeze are both shown to us in the form of a video viewed by Bruce/Bruce and Dick in the Batcave! In Batman Forever, we see Bruce watching a video of Two-Face get some good old acid in the face while on the witness stand at a trial; in Batman & Robin, we see Bruce and Dick watching Victor Fries (and no, that last name is not pronounced like french fries, but rather the very obvious other option) falling into a vat of frozen liquid. I find this similarity particularly hilarious, because it is so visually and narratively specific. I mean, seriously, he couldn't think of any other way to convey this information? Of course not! Because they're the same movie.
Big Crowd Sequence Leads to Important Plot Development: Around the middle point of both movies, there is a large crowd sequence in which something integral to the plot happens. In Batman Forever, it's the circus where the Flying Graysons (Dick's family of trapeze artists) get killed, leaving poor Dick to be orphaned (just like Bruce Wayne!). It is this tragic event that transforms Dick from Flying Grayson to non-flying Robin. In Batman & Robin, the crowd sequence is a big charity auction in which one of the giant pink gorillas dancing around is revealed to be Poison Ivy. No one dies at the charity auction, but Poison Ivy is introduced to Gotham citizens and she blows some love dust (or whatever you want to call that stuff) in Batman and Robin's face, causing both of them to fall for her and, well, bicker some more. In addition to this, both of the crowded events are crashed by the villain that was already a villain at the movie's beginning. In Batman Forever, Two-Face shows up and is responsible for the murder of Dick's family. In Batman & Robin, Mr. Freeze shows up and steals a precious diamond that helps power his Freeze Ray Gun. Also, both of these sequences are followed by a big action sequence in which the heroes chase after the villain who crashed the party.
Person Staying at Wayne Manor Discovers Batcave, Wants to Become a Superhero, Too: In Batman Forever, it's orphan Dick. In Batman & Robin, it's Alfred's orphan niece Barbara. Either way, both movies feature a young person staying in Bruce Wayne's mansion who discover the secret of the Batcave and who decide that being a superhero sounds like a blast. Dick becomes Robin and Barbara becomes Batgirl. If only Goldsman were hired to write another Batman movie, we might be given an awesome story of an orphan pup who becomes Batdog. Now that would be awesome.
Another Big Crowd Sequence Sets Up the Finale: Eventually, we find ourselves approaching the end of these two crapfests. Yay! Rejoice! Well, don't get too excited, because we're not in the clear yet. Both movies set up their big finales with a big crowded event unveiling something supposedly important to the citizens of Gotham. In Batman Forever, it is the launch of The Riddler's wacky brain-sucking, TV-zapped-directly-to-your-head machine, while in Batman & Robin, it is the official unveiling of the Wayne-funded Gotham Super-Telescope. Things are all happy and rosy at first, but then things quickly turn sour.
One Villain is Killed Off in a Quick and Easy Manner: Okay, here's one slight difference between the two movies. The main villain of Batman Forever sort of becomes The Riddler (he has the big plan and is the one that has to be defeated last), even though he is introduced second in the movie, while the main villain of Batman & Robin is Mr. Freeze, who of course is introduced first. So there is that, but it's a minor alteration, like pretending you bought a new shirt when all you did was turn the old one inside out. So anyways, the secondary villain in both movies suffers a quick and ultimately very lame demise. Two-Face falls to his death when he tries to grab his lucky coin from a whole collection of coins tossed into the air. Poison Ivy takes a beating from Batman and Robin and Batgirl and gets swallowed up by one of her over-sized plants. Both deaths feel rushed and silly.
Finale Takes Place in a Room Situated High in the Air: Well, here we are. The big finale. Batman and Robin face off against The Riddler in his high-up lair in Batman Forever. Because it's high up, some falling occurs and the grappling hook guns are used by the heroes to stop said falling. In Batman & Robin, all three heroes face off against Mr. Freeze in the high-up Observatory (where the new Super-Telescope is located). Again, because it's high-up, some falling occurs and the grappling hook guns are used to stop said falling.
Main Villain Does Not Die, Is Instead Tossed into Arkham Asylum: In both movies, the main villain is defeated, but not killed. They are promptly tossed into Arkham Asylum.
Triumphant Heroes Run Toward Us in Slow-Motion: I think that about says it all. At the end of Batman Forever, Batman and Robin run toward us while the Bat-symbol lights their backsides. In Batman & Robin, the exact same thing happens, except now Batgirl is with them. So, if you cover up one third of the screen, then it looks EXACTLY the same as the Batman Forever running-in-slow-motion scene. And even if you don't, it still pretty much looks the same. So it's a lose-lose situation.
So there you have it. The same movie, except one has a nipple fetish and the other one has Val Kilmer. Which, when you think about it, are kind of the same thing anyway.